What does shopping sustainably mean, and why should you care?
Have you ever thought about where your clothes come from? Maybe you have seen a ‘made in China’ tag, but have you thought about the individual whose hands made the product? If you haven’t you aren’t alone. The concept of ethical consumerism or shopping sustainably is new to those who grew up in the Forever 21 and fast-fashion era. In the mid-2000s, fast-fashion is all the rage. Middle-class teens could afford the latest fashion trends. What fast-fashion consumers don’t know is being fashionably trendy costs more than a price tag.
You probably haven’t researched the clothing brand you shop at, and why would you? If the piece of clothing is on-trend and affordable it goes into the shopping cart of Americans without even second thought behind the production process. However, with the information surfacing about the issues with the fast fashion industry consumers can no longer ignore this problem. American consumer purchases are contributing to a larger global problem. Making the decision to try and shop locally, sustainably, and ethically is the first step to fixing a global problem. There are several clothing brands that are actively working on solutions. Shopping ethically and sustainably doesn’t have to mean you miss out on wearing the clothing you love, but it does mean being a part of the fashion revolution.
Problems with Fast Fashion Industry
Wastefulness of Resources
Fast fashion is simply wasteful. Clothing only has value based on if it is in-style rather than if it’s condition. Last season’s clothing has little market value and often gets thrown away in good condition. The spike in the wastefulness of the fashion industry has increased over the last twenty years. The production of clothing has nearly doubled since the early 2000s, but most of the textiles produced are wasted. (Business Insider, Morgan Mcfall-Johnsen 2019) In fact, almost 85% of textiles produced go to waste. It makes keeping up with styles unrealistic and wastes hundreds of pounds of clothing unnecessarily.
An average consumer throws away 70 pounds (31.75 kilograms) of clothing per year. Globally we produce 13 million tons of textile waste each year 95% of which could be reused or recycled.The Pretty Planeteer
Production of Harmful Carbon Emissions
The way that fast fashion is mass-produced realizes harmful emissions into the air. ‘Cheap synthetic fibers also emit gasses like N2O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2’. Clothing companies are aware of this problem, but few improvements have been made. Back in 2015 James Conca, an energy contributor for Forbes magazine writes, “The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil.”(Forbes, 2015) The problem hasn’t improved. As of the statistic from 2019 ‘fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams'(Business Insider, Morgan Mcfall-Johnsen 2019). This growing problem is one a consumer needs to be aware they are contributing to.
Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams.Morgan McFall-Johnsen, Business Insider; The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet:
Unfair Labor Wages
If the price is too good to be true, it is because it is. An inexpensive price tag could mean the brand doesn’t pay workers fair wages. Back in 2018 Nike, a multi-million dollar company became under fire for paying workers extremely low wages. Although some of the claims made against Nike were found to be outdated there are still some funny business practices going on. Nike factory workers, who are 80% female, in Vietnam were paid 61-89 cents an hour back in 2016. (“Africa Check”) While Nike paid Colin Kaepernick millions to talk about social justice and racial issues for the company.
It is unfair that wealthy large corporations misuse employees. The best thing you can do as the consumer is not buying from certain companies that are known for this kind of behavior.
Clean Clothing Campaign recognized this problem and is an organization that focuses on improving working conditions in the garment and sportswear industry. Putterman writes, ‘Clean Clothes also pointed us to a June 2019 report that surveyed top brands about their progress in implementing a living wage for workers and said most brands –– Nike included –– provided no evidence that their workers anywhere in the world were being paid a living wage.'(Potlitifact, Samantha Putterman, 2019).
Exploiting developing countries
One way fast-fashion factories exploit developing countries is that lack of accountability in maintaining health and safety regulations. Back in 2012 Bangladesh gained national attention when more than seventy people died during a fire in a factory caused by a lack of safety regulations. Clothing brands in fast fashion establish garment factories in developing countries in order to cut costs on labor. The workers, who are primarily women, are not paid liveable wages and are forced to work in unsafe conditions. Bangladesh is the second-largest clothing distributor in the world.
According to Yvette Hymann, a writer for Good on You, Nike has improved its labor and ethical practices since the controversy came to light. However, Nike is only one example of the numerous brands that have faced criticism for unethical wage practices.
Brands you should shop instead
It isn’t all doom and gloom for the fashion industries. Many companies are trying to break the status quo and do production ethically and sustainably. Shopping sustainably doesn’t have to be expensive, exclusive, or out of reach. Invest in ethical companies that have fair trade practices, strive towards cleaner productions, and well-made products. Shop these sustainable clothing brands with peace of mind you aren’t contributing to the fast-fashion problem.
Local Thrift Shops & Consignment Stores
Good clothing doesn’t have to be brand new. Thousands of pounds of clothing in new condition go to waste each year. These clothes sit in landfills in developing countries and emit harmful fumes to the surrounding areas. Shopping at local thrift stores is an excellent way to reuse clothing and prevent it from ending up in landfills. You can fill up an entire wardrobe by thrifting. Not to mention thrifting can save consumers money since used t-shirts sell at a price less than a cup of coffee.
10 Thousand Villages
10 Thousand Villages sells handmade items created by artisans in impoverished countries. This nonprofit organization has an online store and several locations worldwide. Shop their scarves, jewelry, and more and support local artisans from around the world.
A big problem with the clothing industry is the lack of transparency. Many companies do not publish their wages and often women workers in the fashion industry are not paid a livable wage. This is not true with Able. They publish their lowest wages for workers and expect to be held accountable for fair wages. Able values empowering women through financial freedom. 95% of its employees are female. When you purchase clothing from Able you are helping women workers all over the world achieve financial freedom.
Alice & Whittles
Alice and Whittles are what happens when fashionable meets environmental. This sustainable footwear company makes boots you can wear hiking or to a brunch date. 90% of the materials Alice and Whittles use to make these versatile boots are traceable and sustainable.
Based out of Sacramento, CA, All Birds is a footwear company with a low carbon footprint. Shopping sustainably also means buying with the intent of using for years to come. Their shoes are machine washable, meant to last, and offer a wide variety of sneaker styles. All Bird shoes are perfect for gym rats, runners, and for those who just want their feet to be comfortable.
Alternative Apparel has a sustainable fashion for women, men, and youth. Their motto is “soft, simple, sustainable”. The products are made with organic cotton. Alternative Apparel isn’t done yet. They hope to keep improving its sustainability model. Their pledge is “By 2021, we pledge to replace all virgin polyester with 100% recycled polyester in future fabrics.”
Aster + Gray
Aster + Gray sells handcrafted products created by nearly 200 artisans. When you shop at Aster + Gray you can rest-assured your purchases are making a global impact.
BOODY sells athleisure essentials you can wear to the gym or for everyday wear. Their factories are certified by Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, which protects the safety and health of workers.
If you have never been obsessed with a pair of socks, you have never tried on Bombas. Bomas socks are so comfortable you will want to live in them, but that is by design. Bombas believes that everyone deserves comfortable clothing. For each pair of socks, you purchase Bombas will donate a pair of socks to someone affected by homelessness. They have donated over 40 million items since the start of their company.
CHNGE sells graphic tees made from organic certified textiles. The clothing brand is transparent about the production process and provides information about the fabrics they use. The company CHNGE focuses on reducing carbon emissions, water usage, and using zero harmful pesticides.
Honest Basics sells minimalistic fashion that is good for your pocketbook and the planet. The factories used to produce Honest Basics are Global Organic Textile Standard certified (GOTS). Every product lists as vegan by PETA, an animal rights organization. You can purchase all your staple tees here.
Known Supply has an affordable, sustainable clothing brand for a cause. Build your wardrobe basics knowing exactly where they came from. Known Supply’s clothing is simple and stylish for every lifestyle. When you shop for clothing on their website you can click on ‘who made it” and see the name and face of the person who made it. The revolutionary intention behind Known Supply is to connect the consumer with the person who made their clothing in a transparent way.
Everyone needs a pair of jeans in their wardrobe. Mud Jeans are high quality, sustainably produced, and stylish. This company uses recycled cotton and other Eco-friendly materials in their jean production process. Mud Jeans uses no animal products; even PETA approves Mud Jeans label as vegan.
With clothing collections for babies, kids, women, and men, Pact has something for everyone. More importantly, though Pact prides itself in being a Fair Trade clothing company, uses organic cotton, and has a carbon offset shipping option. All of Pact’s clothing factories are Fair Trade Certified. In addition to their ethical and sustainable clothing production, they accept clothing donations through their program ‘Give Back Wear Forward’. You can ship your used clothing to Pact, at no cost to you, and they will donate them to local charities in need.
Patagonia offers outdoor apparel and gear, that is doing the most. On their website, Patagonia openly talks about their steps towards being an anti-racism company. Aside from their work in social justice, the clothing is made last. When you purchase Patagonia you can expect it will be a part of your wardrobe for years to come. If your Patagonia clothing gets damaged, such as a rip or tear, send it to Patagonia and they will repair it for free. Patagonia also designs recrafted wear from used gear and sells used gear on their website. Shopping sustainably and ethically is made easy at Patagonia.
REI Used Gear is the place for outdoor junkies to get expensive gear at a reduced price. Also, look into REI garage sales. You can find gently used outdoor products and gear for half the price. I purchased my first pair of climbing shoes.
The Tote Project
The Tote Project takes shopping sustainably to the next level. They sell adorable tote bags with a purpose. Women escaping the sex trade in West Bengal, India handcraft these totes. By purchasing a tote you are helping women achieve financial freedom after escaping the terrors of human trafficking. They are fair trade certified, made from organic cotton, and from recycled materials.
Not only does Toms donates a pair of shoes for every pair of shoes purchased, but they create well made sustainable shoes for every wardrobe. You can feel secure in investing your consumer cash into this brand.
You probably don’t think of shopping sustainably and lingerie in the same sentence. Under Protection, a Danish brand from Copenhagen uses the phrase ‘ethics and aesthetics’ to describe their products. They sell lingerie, lounge-wear, and swimwear from recycled polyester, recycled wool, Tencel lyocell, and organic cotton. When you receive your Under Protection product in the mail it will come in recycled or biodegradable packaging. The lingerie is sexy and comfortable, you will want to purchase one of every pair. All the swimwear is made from recycled polyester and there are plenty of cute styles to choose from.
Yes And clothing makes my ethical brand list because of their dedication to transparency about fair labor and usage of organic materials. Not to mention they sell comfy basics for every wardrobe.
Online Thrift Shops
An easy trick to shopping sustainably is not buying something new. Thrifting for clothing is a great way to not support businesses contributing to the fast-fashion problem. You can find used clothing that fits the needs of your wardrobe. However, if you are addicted to only online shopping, try online thrifting instead of purchasing new.
Thrifting is a way to purchase used clothing. Several benefits of thrifting include saving money and reducing waste that ends up in landfills in developing countries. ThredUp is the largest fashion resale marketplace and a great option for thrifting online.
You can still enjoy the clothing designers you love while shopping sustainably. Vestiaire Collective is an online luxury resale brand.
See if shopping sustainbly includes the brands you love
As consumers, it is important to know the potential for your purchases to cause environmental harm. Shopping sustainably might mean you boycott some of the brands you used to purchase from frequently. If you are looking to find out if one of your favorite stores has ethical practices check out Ethical Loo or Good on You for information about brands. Shopping for sustainable clothing brands can slowly help eliminate the fast-fashion problem.
Helpful resources for information on the fast fashion industry.
Fast fashion: Inside the fight to end the silence on waste
The problem with ‘fast fashion’
Fashion Industry Waste Statistics
Forbes- Making Climate Change Fashionable – The Garment Industry Takes On Global Warming
Business Insider: The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet.
Where does clothing end up? Modern colonialism disguised as donation
The ‘True Cost’ documentary exposes the detrimental issues around fast-fashion and consumerism. It tells the story of clothes. The people who make them, companies that produce them, and consumers who purchase them. It is eye-opening to how the industry is harming the environment and women in developing countries.